East Manatee's Elmira's Wildlife Sanctuary gives wild and exotic animals a home

jajones1@bradenton.comJuly 14, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- Twelve tigers, five bears, a lion, two cougars, several wolves and assorted other exotic animals, including a coatimundi, lemurs and a bobcat call Elmira's Wildlife Sanctuary home.

They had better, because there is no other place for them to go.

They are living out their lives in a "forever" home in East Manatee, just south of Wimauma.

The volunteer-run sanctuary has operated at 13910 Seminole Trail since 2008. It receives regular inspections from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is in the process of receiving a special permit from Manatee County government.

"We're down to the final nuts and bolts now. We'll probably get our final approval shortly," said Leo Mills, who prepared the boundary survey and plot plan.

Manatee County principal planner Barney Salmon praises the sanctuary and its mission of caring for difficult-to-place animals.

"They are doing a great thing and a great job," Salmon said.

Elmira's Wildlife Sanctuary is a nonprofit corporation supported solely by members and private contributions, according to the sanctuary's webpage: "There are no paid employees, we're staffed entirely by volunteers. Our mission is providing loving care, life management and enrichment to exotic and wild animals in need of a home. We also provide educational opportunities which increase community awareness of these animals' needs."

Founded in 2005, Elmira's moved its first 14 exotic animals, including a lion, bear, tigers and servals to its current East Manatee location in 2008.

The 7-acre property was previously used as a home for hybrid wolves. The facility has since doubled in size to 14 acres.

Elmira's Sanctuary was named after a North American black bear who still lives at the sanctuary.

"All this has been built by sweat and blood by volunteers," said Robin Greenwood, president of Elmira's Wildlife Sanctuary.

Volunteers recently constructed a "tiger turnout," a large enclosed space with 18-foot fences where the big cats can exercise and move about.

On Friday, Casper, a 12-year-old lion, seemed happy to just get out of the heat and rest inside the shade of a concrete culvert.

Many of the animals are older, and the collection has remained relatively stable in size.

The sanctuary doesn't breed, sell or handle the animals.

"These animals don't have any place to go. We just give them the best place possible, the best life possible," Greenwood said.

Elmira's offers tours Saturdays at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. and at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. the first Sunday of the month.

Donations are $15 for adults, $7.50 for children and $10 for senior citizens. For tour information, call 800-979-3370.

For more information, go to visitelmiraswildlife.org.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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